In contrast to the last couple of work parties the November event made slow and steady progress in what were for the most part awful conditions. The weather forecast for the weekend was apocalyptic but in fact bar a few brief soakings work was able to continue. The muddy conditions which ensued were such that at the end of Sunday some of the volunteers used the pressure washer on themselves as well as the machines.
Friday was a full working day. Seven volunteers spent the morning at the premises of the stone supplier sorting the five tonnes of walling stone required for the mooring. This was subsequently delivered to the site as well as a lorry load of blocks. Suitably refreshed by lunch the group then moved both the stone and the blocks to the storage area in the compound extension before being persuaded to stop! The remaining volunteers had the somewhat less strenuous task of setting up the submersible pump which will remove water from the land drain.
The main task on Saturday and Sunday was a concerted effort to extend the French Drain. Just about the whole workforce was involved in this – either in the channel or in the supply chain delivering gravel, pipes and sundry tools. It would be fair to say that the drain operations were of a two steps forward, one back nature, and that overall progress was slow . The main culprit was the ground conditions, specifically our old friend from the Redwith/Pryces section the ‘blue clay’ which is actually sand. As well as being prone to local collapse the material turns to running sand on contact with water. The result of this is that after the initial excavation of the trench, the water in the bottom of the trench rapidly deposits an additional thick layer of sand. This had to be removed before the geotextile and pipe could be installed at its correct level and this process had to be repeated several times in some locations. The gravel gang then had the almost impossible job of shifting several tonnes of gravel into the drain whilst the trench was open. Given that this involved moving the gravel by bucket/dumper/ gravel chute this was no mean feat.
As with all jobs on the restoration there is a learning process. Towards the end of the Saturday a technique of working had evolved – namely working only within the reach of the digger, over-digging the trench, using short lengths of pipe and filling the trench rapidly – giving some hope of better progress the next day.
The rain did abate on Sunday morning to allow work to start, albeit in a lot of standing water with mud everywhere. The first section of pipe went in and, joy of joys, the ground conditions changed from the ‘blue clay’ into something slightly more stable. Alas in the next dig the digger bucket hit something hard which turned out to be a very large and very old tree stump. The consensus of opinion was that, given its fossilised condition, it probably predated the construction of the canal. It was too big to move and diverting the drain round it took the rest of the day. The two days of toil resulted in 25m of finished drain.
The other job done on Sunday was a trial excavation at the back of the headwall of the culvert. The image shows the quality of the brickwork from all those years ago. The weekend was what rugby commentators refer to as ‘doing the hard yards’ and there is doubtless more of this to come in future. A more immediate concern is the next work party which sees the start of our annual excursion into hedge laying. Here we hope to be dealing with timber of a more recent vintage!